Chapeltown In Focus

Photographer, author, activist and longtime carnival reveller Max Farrar on Carnival, Chapeltown and photography.

Some people are lovers, others are fighters, Max Farrar is both. Max Farrar is the type of person who will fight for the things he loves. One of the things Max Farrar loves is Chapeltown, another is the West Indian Carnival that has been held there since 1967. When Max Farrar first arrived in Leeds as a student in 1968, he had no idea about the Leeds West Indian Carnival, which was then in its infancy. Although he moved to Chapeltown in 1970, he spent his summers out of Leeds, missing the entire thing. He met Ruth Bundey and joined the Chapeltown Community Association in 1972. He took over the association’s newspaper, Chapeltown News and using a Pentax Spotmatic with a 55mm lens he began taking photographs for the paper. His friendship with Edris Browne and Hughbon Condor led to his love affair with Leeds West Indian Carnival, a relationship that has lasted over forty-five years. Max Farrar began taking photographs of the carnival in 1974 and hasn’t stopped since. His photo of the Carnival Committee, taken in 1974, is one of the best known photos of Leeds Carnival. He met with Danny Friar one afternoon in April 2018 to discuss Carnival, Chapeltown and photography.

When did you come to Leeds and what brought you here?
I came to Leeds in 1968 to be a student at Leeds University studying sociology.

Did you experience Leeds West Indian Carnival then?
No. I lived in Chapeltown in 1970, the year of my final exams, 70-71. I graduated in the summer of ’71 but went away so I didn’t experience carnival in the summer. I was always out of Leeds for the summer until 1972 when I came back to Leeds and met Ruth Bundey who at that time was secretary of Chapeltown Community Association which is what I joined in 1972. Ruth was a friend of Edris Browne because she lived in the same place, one of those big houses in Reginald Terrace or somewhere where they were split into flats. Edris lived in the flat above Ruth and Edris was from Saint Kitts and was already involved in carnival and she had invited Ruth into carnival about ’70 or ’71 I should think. I’m not quite sure when Ruth first got involved. So Edris invited Ruth, Ruth invited me and my then girlfriend Jane, now my wife. So from ’72 or ’73, I’m not quite sure which, we went to the Queen Show at the Mecca Ballroom and we were also doing Chapeltown News and so for obvious reasons Chapeltown News wanted to cover carnival, wanted to write about carnival, take pictures of carnival, and I was the sort of rudimentary photographer at that time so I began to take photos. I met Hughbon Condor also in this very early period, ’72-’73, and Hughbon also said “you’ve got to get involved in carnival, you gotta come down, you gotta just experience this extraordinary phenomenon.” And so we duly did. Then for several years in the seventies I photographed carnival and sort of watched it. I think we probably missed a couple towards the end of the seventies but from the late seventies/early eighties onward me and Jane and our kids went to carnival every year.

Ruth Bundey and friends at the 1975 carnival
Ruth Bundey (Centre) at Carnival, 1975.

Can you tell me about Chapeltown News and how that got started?

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Chapeltown News, August 1973

There was an organisation called Chapeltown Community Association, which if you really want to get it right the dates are in my Chapeltown book (‘The Struggle for Community in a British Multi-ethnic Inner-city Area: Paradise in the Making’) and my memory is now a little bit hazy but I suspect that started in 1970 I think or maybe ’71. I guy called Tim Mobbs, who was a lecturer in town planning at the school of planning, lived in Chapeltown, he lived in the Newton Garth flats actually, him and his family. He was already interested in community development because of his town planning experience and training. He gathered together representatives of all the Asian organisations and some of the Caribbean organisations along with people who were in things like tenant associations and he formed the Chapeltown Community Association, which among its members it had a guy who was a professional journalist, Adam. So soon after they formed the Community Association they decided to have a newsletter, a newspaper, which they called the Chapeltown News. When I came along in ’72 I started to help a bit with that. As it happened, at that time, Adam got a job somewhere else so it was a question of who was going to take the responsibility for making sure Chapeltown News came out and I pretty much took that responsibility from about ’73 onward. I think you can tell when I took over cos the layout is so completely wonky, I’d never done anything like it before and there wasn’t a straight line on the page, it was a total mess. That’s about issue 5, I think, or issue 6, something like that. It was just because there was nobody else around. I was a PHD student so I had a lot of time on my hands and I was trying to write about Chapeltown and so I could justify it as a sort of way of learning more about Chapeltown to do a bit of journalism. I never knew anything about journalism either but we just sort of made it up as we went along.
I read somewhere that you were putting it together in your living room.
Yeah, kitchen table usually. Clear the kitchen table, work flat out for a whole weekend. Probably start Friday night, finish early hours of Sunday morning. Surprisingly labour intensive. Cowgum, typewriter, set squares, Biros. You can tell as you look at it. In fact, later on when the Punks invented Fanzines I thought ‘Oh yeah, that’s what we’ve been doing really’. One or two people then helped us out that had better skills so it does begin to look a bit more orthodox as time goes on.

How often did issues come out?
We aimed for once a month. Sometimes we slipped; sometimes it was like five weeks. I’m sure we did about ten issues a year in the period that I was involved. We stopped doing Chapeltown News after the Bonfire Night trials so that is ’76. Sometime in the summer of ’76 we handed it over to a smaller collective of younger radical black people who took over for the last three or four issues.

What was Chapeltown like in the seventies?
What my book ‘The Struggle for Community’ concentrates on is the militancy of the various types of neighbourhood organisations and that is, for me, central to living in Chapeltown and witnessing Chapeltown. There was a large network of organisations in the Caribbean community, there’s the Jamaican Association, there’s the Barbados Association, The United Caribbean Association and they all kind of overlap in some respects. The Sikhs had their main temple at that point which was the only one public Sikh temple, there was the Pakistanis Workers Association, obviously the Mosques are forming, they were not quite as public. The Sikhs for instance organised protests about what we called in the Chapeltown News ‘The Sikh Turban Issue’, the rights of Sikhs to wear their turbans on the buses. They held a big public demonstration and won. They had to take on the union because there were pretty racist elements in the transport and general workers union. They opposed the right of the Sikhs to wear their turbans. So, there was a lot of controversy. The Caribbean people organised the strike at Cowper Street School. Chapeltown News never had to look for the news. There was always something going on but the underlying thing which was very evident and created an enormous amount of bitterness was the police harassment of young black boys. Mainly they were boys but some older men got a bit of trouble as well. But it was sort of teenagers who were continually being stopped by the cops and treated very badly and that resulted in the first riot by black people in this country, anywhere in this country which was on November 5th 1975. The militancy, particularly of the Caribbean people, was very visible and very significant in shaping Chapeltown throughout the seventies. I see the riots as, I call it ‘violent urban protest’, I think it’s much better thought of as a form of protest.

The Community Association wasn’t particularly militant. It was probably much more closely aligned with what, at the time, the Liberal Party were champions of, kind of community politics. When I became the secretary I think we became a little bit more militant and we did have some demonstrations and blocked the roads to try and get the council to clean the streets better and it became a bit more militant for a while. The important point is the network of religion based organisations which had a whole raft of social functions. There’d often be youth clubs associated with them or sports teams or whatever. This meant that as well as the political organising there was a very strong network of social organising and I think that is one of the reasons why Chapeltown remained pretty cohesive. You’d never really describe it as a demoralised neighbourhood; it was never a broken neighbourhood. There were symptoms of demoralisation, a certain level of crime and a certain level of prostitution and pimping and so on and that of course is what the authorities concentrated on all the time. It was always a vibrant neighbourhood. It was always a neighbourhood were you knew social life was intact, family life was still intact. In many ways the carnival is the best expression of that.
You could always get the carnival on the road. Among the Caribbean people, whether they were political or not, there was always this strong social origination that would make costumes put stalls up and provided the basis for the carnival which entails a huge amount of people doing a huge amount of work.

How did people react to you when you first started taking photos?
This goes back to the militancy. I was very aware, because the black militants made it very clear that they weren’t best pleased to see white people getting too involved in the political issues because they said this is just another example of white missionaries coming in to try and preach or white leftists coming in to preach. I was seen really as a sort of leftist missionary by some of the more militant people. They were very direct in their criticism of me. Obviously, there’s a lot of contact because if you’re trying to do something for Chapeltown News you have to go talk to people. The thing about carnival was, and Arthur (France) has made this very plain, carnival was there to show the other side of black life in Britain. Yes, there was this militant critical side but the other side was the creative, convivial, cultural side of black life in Britain. Most of that criticism was suspended, and particularly if someone like Hughbon Condor was there, you were sort of directly invited in and that certainly meant that the photographer side was perfectly straight forward because people asked for their photo to be taken. They liked to see a photo that then came out in Chapeltown News and if they asked me for a print, I had a dark room in those days so I’d print them. The photography was largely by consent. The other thing that I notice when I look at the very early photos, I very rarely get close in and of course I didn’t have a telephoto lens, so the distance you see in the photos is the distance I was keeping from the people. That was because I was pretty cautious, I didn’t want to invade and I didn’t want to be a missionary and I didn’t want to be a leftist preacher either. I hope I approached it with the right amount of respect. The other point about that is people do change their minds and as time went on throughout the seventies, even when we’d finished Chapeltown News, relationships improved.

In 1974, you took the now-famous photo of the Carnival Committee, how did that come about?
That is a Chapeltown News photo. By that time I certainly knew Arthur a bit. Arthur was very critical but of course I was a friend of Hughbon’s who was there and I knew Vince Wilkinson a bit better as well. I would have contacted Arthur directly and said “Can I get a photo of the committee?” And he said we’ve got a meeting at Cowper Street School on that particular Sunday, probably, come along. I can’t actually remember going in and digging them out but that’s what I would have done. This is what I mean by relationships improving. Arthur would give me jip if he wanted to on a political occasion but they could see that Chapeltown News was making a contribution to the neighbourhood and they were pleased to have their pictures in the paper. I know they were cos it sold like hot cakes did Chapeltown News.

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Some members of the Carnival Committee, 1974

Can you describe what Carnival was like in the seventies?
By today’s standards it was a pretty small affair and it was pretty homespun. The level of professionalism that you now see in the costume making and things, it was there but there was less of it. Probably the majority of people participated in their everyday clothes and just enjoyed the jumping up on the road and steel bands on the road. It assembles from the park so it’s a slow gathering of all the people who want to be in the procession combined with the fairly small number of Queens with fairly small troupes. There would always be six or seven Queens but the troupes in costume might only have ten or fifteen people in them. For me, and this is very much a very young, white, heterosexual male outsider, it was magical. It looked brilliant, it looked sexy and you know, people could be rightly critical of a young white male who wonders around the carnival crowd looking at all these fabulous women with not many clothes on. I have to take the blows for that. I have to say at least one of them became a very good friend of mine because she wanted her photograph taken and she just wanted to be a friend. The magic of it was a combination of the art, the way the art makes the world beautiful and the beautiful men and women who were making that art and displaying it. That’s what it meant for me and it also meant the same for my wife. She loved it and she probably thought some of the men were pretty tasty. She also saw this extraordinary flowering of people’s everyday creativity. People were making this pretty much from scratch. It is a tradition and they are imitating in some respects but people are continually using that imagination, the skills that they’ve got and the materials and the ingenuity of it is one of the things that impresses you. In terms of going on the road, the music in the early days came from actual steel bands who would set up in the park. So the park would be full of the sound of steel bands but then the pans would be put on wooden platforms that were on low running scaffolding trolleys so you might get eight or nine guys with their pans on a trolley with pretty simple wheels on and when I say simple, the wheels would come off. I don’t think anybody had really designed the kind of scaffolding and trolleys that steel pans needed to go straight on the road and to be dragged by ropes. Of course that was great for fit young guys like me.
People rightly see it as a predominantly black thing but if you look carefully at the photos in this period you’ll see it’s not just lads like me or women like Jane who were interested in being part of it, there was always dotted about white men and women who want to be in the procession and the white men were always welcome to come and help drag the trolleys because it was flipping hard work. You’d start in the park and in those days it processed all the way in to town and back, it took absolutely forever and if a wheel came off it stopped for twenty minutes while somebody came and repaired it. It was hard labour but somehow that was part of the magic of it.

Hughbon Condor at 1974 carnival
Hughbon Condor at carnival, 1974.

What was it like in the park? Was there many stalls?
There would be some, very homemade, maybe a decorator’s table and a few table cloths and people would be putting something up and selling things but from memory that wasn’t part of the attraction, there was very few stalls. From my memory, the stalls don’t really get going until the late 80s or early 90s.

What are your memories of the Queen Shows?
An outstanding memory of the first Queen Show in the Mecca Ballroom, which is a superb venue and you can tell from one or two of the photos what a superb venue it was. Because it was a ballroom it had a balcony where you could sit and look down on people dancing in the ballroom but obviously for the Queen Show they had a stage and you looked down onto the stage and that’s where me and Jane and Ruth and probably Edris, I’m not sure if Edris was one of the contestants or not this year, but we’d be sitting up there and at one point there was a bit of a uproar and everybody on the balcony rushed to the edge of the balcony absolutely delighted and shouting and cheering and laughing like mad and I thought ‘oh there’s a special act going on down below’. So I ran to the edge of the balcony and I’ll never get over this, it ruined my life, I realised what the great show was that was causing such hilarity was two white people dancing. I’ll never forgive Chapeltown for this because it made me nervous about dancing in public for the next twenty years. Now, I’ve just about gotten over it. They danced just like how we danced as students, basically just throwing your arms and legs in wild directions. In fact, someone later described it as the ‘headless chicken dance’ and that’s absolutely what it was and I thought ‘shit! If I was down there that’s exactly how I would be dancing and they’d all be laughing at me’. That scarred me for life.
The other thing was, when the Queens came on, it did look spectacular because they were drop dead gorgeous. It was a sort of mini Hollywood. It was just fabulous.

Edris Brown at the 1982 carnival
Edris Browne at Carnival, 1982.

Max Farrar continues to photograph Leeds West Indian Carnival today. As a member of the Harrison Bundey Mama Dread troupe he has taken part in the parade for the past twenty years. His book ‘The Struggle for “Community” in a British Multi-Ethnic Inner City Area: Paradise in the Making’ was published in 2002. He wrote the text for the 2017 book ‘Celebrate! 50 Years of Leeds West Indian Carnival’, a photograph book to includes many of his photographs. Both books and other works by Max Farrar can be purchased here.

Special thanks to Max Farrar who provided all the photos for this feature. 

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Rise Of The Condor

Award-winning costume designer Hughbon Condor on Costumes, Carnival and the Seventies.

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Hughbon Condor, 1974 (Photo: Max Farrar)

Hughbon Condor has been winning Carnival Queen contests for almost 40 years, he’s been making costumes for even longer. If anybody understands the art of carnival it’s Hughbon Condor. Hughbon Condor is the human equivalent of the Sankofa bird, while he’s always moving forward with his costume designs he never forgets his African and Caribbean roots. He was born in Saint Kitts in 1953 and was raised by his grandmother who taught him to not fuss over the small details with a saying – ‘Man on hos back nah see dat’. The saying dates back to the days of slavery when an overseer on horseback would watch over slaves working on the plantations. Slaves could get away with something if the man on horseback didn’t see it. The saying became the inspiration behind his 2007 award-winning carnival costume ‘Man On Hos Back’. Hughbon Condor has had a love for costume making from an early age. At the age of 12 he attempted to make a mocko jumbie costume.  He arrived in London in November 1967 at the age of 14 and travelled to Leeds by train to be with his family. Hughbon was the last of his siblings to be ‘sent for’ by his parents who were already living in the UK. He studied at Primrose Hill High School where he excelled in metal work. He was working as an engineer in 1971 when a chance meeting with Arthur France changed his life. Danny Friar met up with him one afternoon in April 2018 to discuss the first nine years of his career as a costume designer, a period he refers to as a “very, very long apprenticeship”.

You met Arthur France in 1971, how did that come about?
I can remember walking along Hillcrest Avenue, not far from where I was living, and I met Arthur and in his usual engaging way he just sort of said “come here, come, come. What the carnival needs is young designers like you”. Now, at that point I hadn’t actually designed any costumes and yet still he was giving me this wonderful  name as a young designer and you know, like anything else once you give someone a reputation  then you try to live up to that reputation. So I thought ‘yeah, maybe I am a young designer’.
And so he invited me along to the carnival committee where they met in Osmondthorpe I think it was. I went along there and I saw how the Trinidadian guys were making costumes and they in fact were using the more traditional way of making costumes, wire bending and I looked and thought ‘yeah, that’s okay’. At the time as well I had excelled in metal work at school, that was one of my favourite subjects and I got the top prize for that. When I started my engineering apprenticeship with a company in Cleckheaton I knew I had at my disposal a lot of machinery and equipment that would allow me to bring to the carnival arena joints and other materials that weren’t being used at the time. I remember making my very first costume which I did in collaboration with one of my best friends James Browne. We designed this costume that was like a butterfly but the wings at the side actually moved in place. I thought it was a wonderful design at the time and so did my parents and my close friends but of course it didn’t win. It just didn’t have that level of expertise to compete with the more define guys in terms of people making costumes more regularly.

Going back to that first meeting with Arthur, what was your first impression of him?
He is quite inspiring. He always makes you feel good about yourself and I also have to say that I worked in an environment where I was one black person among 800 white people in a factory and so it was easy to lose your identity working among such a large group of people. When I got in touch with Arthur, when I worked in Chapeltown, it was really great, it was just like being back home and then when I go to work it’s a totally different environment. So, Arthur inspired me in as much as he helped me to have more of an understanding of who I am and it was okay to be who I was. It was just great being with a bunch of black guys who were running carnival, who took over the streets in August. It was like “yeah! This is great!” And there wasn’t any singular white person at the top as it was with all the other situations I found myself in where the black person never had the final say. In this case, with the carnival, it did. Arthur was one of those guys who said it.

You joined the Carnival Committee; do you remember who else was on the Committee in 1971?
Yeah, there was James Browne who was a friend of mine, there was Hebrew Rawlins, there was a guy who now lives in Manchester Vince (Wilkinson), there was Arthur (France), and another guy from Nevis (George Archibold). It was quite a large, young bunch of people who just got together.

mcwilliams5
Trinidad Carnival, 1971

There wasn’t a lot of costume makers in England let alone Leeds back then, apart from childhood memories of the Christmas Sports in Saint Kitts, what influences did you have making that first Queen costume?
I have to say I was very much influenced by a lot of the images I had from Trinidad in the main form of magazines, there wasn’t internet at the time. I would usually see magazines from Trinidad which showed really big and elaborate costumes and I was inspired to try and build something as big and as grand as they did in Trinidad. In Saint Kitts I don’t remember seeing big King and Queen costumes, it was more traditional costumes, you know,  mocko jumbies, clowns, people jumping over folks and that type of stuff so not big King and Queen costumes.

How did you get the materials for your first costume?
I think getting the materials was always difficult. At the time, everything was sparkly and a lot of that sparkly material was only available during the Christmas period. Outside the Christmas period it was extremely difficult to get material that was sparkly. There were a few shops in Leeds that supplied shop fittings and had a limited amount of stuff. There were also the Asian shops that had a certain range of materials that one could buy. Then again, the price was really, really expensive then. It’s properly really expensive now but certainly it was quite expensive at that time to buy really good materials. In terms of the feathers, I know Arthur likes to tell stories about the chickens but I never really got too involved with feathers. I always saw them as being expensive, difficult to procure and so I tended to look for other things to decorate my costumes and using fabrics and paints was the way forward for me.

Did you use a lot of wire frames?
I did use wire initially but I suppose one of the big turning points for me was when I discovered fiberglass. It was like ‘wow!’ All of a sudden I could make costumes much bigger and grander without having the massive weight effect it would have if you used a similar construction using steel or even aluminium.

In the early days, some costumes used wheels on the frames, did you ever use wheels?
I did initially. There must be at least one or two of my costumes that used wheels. Nothing I’m too proud of I must add because I always feel that wheels have an advantage in as much as you don’t need to be restricted with the size and the weight of the costume but what you then lose is that mobility that allows the person to be more expressive and perform in a costume much better when it’s just carried on the shoulders.

What kind of difficulties did you come across when making those first costumes?
I think I had a rather long apprentice period. My very first costume was in 1971 and my very first winning costume was in ’79. That was like an eight year period of not actually making a winning costume. I know now people say “oh yeah, you’re always winning” but what people tend to forget is that I had a very, very long apprenticeship. I think during that time what I learnt was to be observant of what other people were doing and what made a costume a winning costume, what was seen as the key elements and I do know that one of the early requirements for Queens was to be able to wine. Whist that was okay I never pursued that as key element of my designs. I wanted the designs to stand in their own right, to be able to be seen as a work of art and not just a performance in the terms of the girl being able to be interesting in the terms of the way she portrays the costume.

Did you ever recycle materials or were costumes ever reused by you or others?
I very rarely recycled costumes in as much as I tried to create something new and so in doing it means I’m not restricted by parts of the previous costume and I suppose I see that as a strength but other people see it as a weakness in terms of not being able to capitalise on what you’ve done before. As a designer I just enjoy innovating. I just enjoy making new things. You can’t say for my designs that this costume looks like last years or previous or even ten years ago. Every year gives me that new opportunity to design and make something new, fresh, interesting, that’s not been done before. Recycling was never seen as a key part.

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Hebrew Rawlins at work, 1977

What other designers were around at the time and how did they influence you?
I suppose my main competitors at the time were Hebrew Rawlins and Michael Paul. We had a certain amount of rivalry amongst us. We kept quite undercover and secretive what it is we were doing. I suppose Arthur France was always in the frame in terms of making costumes but there was never the same rivalry amongst us. It was more amongst Hebrew Rawlins and Michael Paul and a couple of designers from Huddersfield as well. Allan Julien for example made a winning costume when I entered my very first costume but he was a really experienced designer from Trinidad. Bless his soul, he’s passed away now. He had a certain style about him in terms of wire bending. Whilst I admired it, it wasn’t an area of development I wanted to pursue individually, the same way I just wanted to use different materials and different structures.

What are your memories of the Queen Shows in the seventies?
There are quite a few early memories that stick with me. I’ll just talk about a couple of incidents that stuck with me. I don’t recall the dates but it was the year we performed at the Mecca Ballroom in Merrion Centre and there was this young lady who designed a costume which was…in fact, I’m not going to be disrespectful to her design but it was just a blank surface which was beautifully decorated with lots of reflective material. In the Mecca Ballroom itself it had a lot of lighting so when the light hit the costume it lit up. It looked absolutely wonderful. But from a design point of view I just saw it as a flat surface that was decorated. It was carried on the girl’s shoulder with a piece of wire. Well, what happened was that when she first came on to the stage the crowd loved it. She came off the stage and because of the design and the fact that the wire wasn’t very much padded on her shoulder it stopped the blood from flowing in her shoulder and she just fainted when she got off stage and it was like ‘wow’. The design was poor but actually it was a winning costume, it came first. So that’s always stuck out in my mind.
Another costume that stuck in my mind was one that was displayed at Primrose Hill School. It was my very first winning costume. It was called Morning Glory and all the rays of the sun were detectable from the central sun and I can always remember Hebrew Rawlins and Michael Paul walking around, observing all the costumes and predicting what position they were likely to come and because my costume wasn’t fully assembled at the time it wasn’t even considered as a possible contender. Anyway, when she was just about to go on stage I then put all the rays of the sun on which gave the costume a lot of dimension. Almost like three or four times the size of what was evident in terms of the costume. As she came on stage I can remember Michael coming to me and he said “where did that costume come from?”

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Allan Julien.

Do you remember the winning costume from 1971?
Yes, it was one that was designed by Allan Julien and at the time he was that impressed with his design that he thought he could take it to London to compete in London Carnival instead so I’m not actually sure it paraded in Leeds Carnival but I knew there was this thing about going to London to try and beat the guys in London as well. I’m not too sure exactly what happened in the final outcome.

What are your memories of being on the road for the first time?
At that period, and it’s probably less so now, my main focus was about making sure the costume can be displayed as well as it can be, to make sure it doesn’t get broken, to make sure the crowd doesn’t enclose on it too much and so the focus has always been about looking after the Queen. I suppose I didn’t have too much of an overall view of the carnival. I tended to be more insular in looking at my design and making sure that was okay. Later on when I also made troupes to go with the Queen, which I think I did in ’73. I then began to make bigger troupes, getting more people involved and so when I did that I then had a much wider view of the whole parade and it was about the competition on the stage as well to make sure that not only did I win the Queen but I also won best troupe. That was always exciting to know that I’d made a massive contribution to the whole Carnival.

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Members of the Carnival Committee, 1974. LtoR: Vince Wilkinson, Hughbon Condor, Hebrew Rawlins, Arthur France, Kathleen Browne, George Archibold. (Photo: Max Farrar)

In 1974, Max Farrar took the now famous photo of the Carnival Committee, what are your memories of that day?
Well as you can see I was wearing a pot on my arm at the time and I remember breaking my hand just trying to jump over a fence that was only about a foot tall. I was trying to stylishly jump over it but instead of a clean jump I just went from the side and I tripped over. It might have been my bellbottoms at the time that got caught in the fence. I tripped and broke my hand.
As I said, at the time there was this kind of confidence about just being amongst a team of people who were putting on carnival. I was just pleased to be amongst those guys. Vincent and Hebrew, we were all a similar age and so we had that kind of youngness about us that just wanted to make a difference. George Archibald was a great inspiration for me as well. I must tell you this story about George. That period was when I first started working as well. I started working in ’71 so this was taken in ‘74, three years later. When I went to work, as one of the few black guys to work in that environment it was always difficult in terms of people’s prejudices and so on.  And I remember once asking him “how do you cope with people prejudging you and treating you differently because of your colour?” and he said “Look Hughbon, you’re doing an apprenticeship, focus on your apprenticeship, get your apprenticeship out of the way because your job is not to try and educate people. The fact that the schools and the colleges and the universities have failed to educate people what chance have you singly to do that?”
I remember that particular discussion with him as though it was yesterday because it was so relevant to understand that singly I couldn’t change other people’s views because the whole system was set up that they had a particular view. I just needed to focus more on what I was doing so that when I finished my training I had the option then of working in an environment that would appreciate me and my skills much more fully. So I was able to do that. I got my apprenticeship, I then moved to a company in Leeds. They paid me a lot more, appreciated me a lot more and life became a lot more interesting.

In 1977, the Queen Show moved to Primrose Hill High School, you were once a student at the school, what was it like going back there?
Primrose was the first school I went to and I shared with Joe (Williams) last year about my very first day there and how cold it was and having to go out and play sports, play football on a hard pitch in short pants, freezing my parts off and that was not a very good experience. Also the fact that when I first came from the Caribbean I was seen as not being very bright by this test that was done, to read a book in front of all these kids, these white kids that I had never seen before in a totally different environment and they put me in the bottom class. Then I had to work very hard to demonstrate that they’d made a mistake and as time went by I was able to start doing some GCEs and some CSEs. That allowed me then to make a bit more progress from the bottom status of the class. I had some good memories at the school as well. One of my best tutors was a guy named Mr Middleton. He allowed me to do technical drawing as the only student in the school to do that. Again, I excelled at that and whilst it was not part of the curriculum to do technical drawing he recognised that I was able to do that and he arranged for me to just do it on my own. So I was the only student in that year that did technical drawing in the school.
Going back and doing Carnival it was just some accommodation to do Carnival and it wasn’t the best accommodation because the stage was very high, the roof was very, very low so the size of the costume was somewhat limited. That taught me to ensure that when I’m designing, I design it for the stage. Because the stage was high so people were looking up at the costume so you don’t want a lot of decoration at the top knowing that they can’t see. I always try and survey the place the costume is going to be displayed to ensure that I’m utilising the audience view for the best effect of that costume.

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Queens on the stage at Primrose Hill High School, 1977.

In 1979 you won your first Queen costume show, how did that make you feel to win after such a long time of not winning?
I think I always enjoy the journey so whilst winning was clearly a milestone in terms of achievement, for me that journey continued. Each year gave me an opportunity to design and create something new and it wasn’t about ‘I’ve won now so that’s it’. It’s never been like that. Even before I actually won, at that point I was making quite good costumes, people always assumed I’d won anyway. On the road people would credit me with a really good design and a winning design and the judges may have felt differently on the night but on the day people see it as being a really good costume.

I think on the road people decide their own winner.
That’s right. I have to tell you this story about Huddersfield. I entered the ‘Man on Hos Back’ which was designed to celebrate the bicentennial of the abolition of slavery. In Huddersfield there was only about four or five costumes competing however, the judges decided that that costume was not the winning costume and I did enquire why it wasn’t the winning costume. Because when the girl came off the horse and she was celebrating her freedom they reckoned the girl was dancing too far away from the horse and so they gave it second place opposed to first place.  Anyway, the Huddersfield Examiner that always published the winning costume on the front page of the paper the following day chose to break away from that tradition and put the second costume, which was mine, on the front in full colour. If you check the Yorkshire Evening Post as well I’ve always been very fortunate that a lot of my costumes were always featured in the newspaper, winners or not.

The Winning costume in 1979 was ‘The Morning Glory’, what was the inspiration behind that?
I think coming from the Caribbean there was always something beautiful and wonderful about seeing the sunrise on a morning and I just wanted to be able to reflect that in the costume design.  Without trying to be too technical in terms of the description it is what it is, it’s just so glorious to see the sun rising on a morning. To be able to try and capture that in a costume design was one of my aims and I think I did a good job at doing that.

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Hughbon Condor on the road with his winning troupe and Queen, 1979.

In what ways do you think costume making has changed from 1971 to 1979?
I think for some it hasn’t changed a great deal. For others I would say we have learnt how to make bigger costumes, we have learnt to incorporate new materials like fiberglass and aluminium which weren’t all that available at the time. I think we also see costumes as more three dimensional in terms of it having width as well as depth as appose to being just a flat surface that’s decorated. For me, it’s also about a performance reflecting the design and not necessary the performer wining as it was then in the early days.  I would say those were the key features but equally true, the amount of money that’s available to spend on costumes has changed a lot. Whilst up until a couple of years ago, I’ve always financed the making of the costumes with my own money, and even when the Carnival Committee gave a small contribution to it for me it has always been a small contribution and I always needed to put more in to ensure I was always able to pursue the type of deign that I wanted. I suppose you could argue that a little bit of an advantage is that I’ve always had a decent job that’s allowed me to spend a bit of more money on my costume designs and develop the ideas but as a designer I’ve always wanted to do the best I can given the conditions and limitations that exist in that moment in time.

The Carnival has always been a very family oriented event for you, your son is involved in costume making, your grandson is involved in costume making, and last year we saw your father on the road.
It was the first time he’s ever took part in carnival. I did say to him “look, Pops, at the end of the day I can only do so much but what you can do is you can be that person that makes it possible for four generations to take part in carnival”. I said “only you can do that. I can’t do it for you, only you can”. Initially he wasn’t too keen on the idea but as time went by he got warm to the idea and agreed to do it. And the thing was if you ask him now about how he felt about taking part he’ll say that he enjoyed it. I think what he didn’t actually understand before taking part was the level of respect a lot of people have got for him for taking part and also the tradition in terms of how we have also contributed as the Condor family to Leeds Carnival. So all of sudden there he was top of the Condor family also taking part and people would just come along and say “can we take a picture with you Mr Condor?” and “How are you doing?” and making sure he was good. He thoroughly enjoyed taking part then.

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Hughbon and his family celebrate success in 1979. (Photo from Hughbon Condor collection)  Hughbon: I still have that particular trophy and it is engraved ‘1979’. This is my family and we feel very proud. That was at my mum’s house at the time and we felt really good about winning. I think the troupe also won that particular year as well.  

What are your personal favourite memories of Carnival in the 1970s?
I have to say the after party, the last lap dance, was always the best bit for me. The reason I say that is because having spent all the time building and making the costumes and delivering the performance on the day in terms of costumes and the parade, the last lap dance was like saying ‘phew’, that sense of relief that it’s done and it’s now about just having some fun. It was an opportunity to relax and reflect and just have fun with the people that you worked with. That for me was always a good time.
If you wanted me to comment specifically on good memories from the seventies, I think the rivalry was always good. I think it was always good just going out sometimes and trying to spy and see what other people were doing. Going to the shop and saying “what material did this person buy” and try and guess what the costume was going to be like.

Was it always a friendly rivalry?
It was. It was just fun trying to spy on other people and they too on me as well so it was always good memories, good fun memories.

 

Hughbon Condor continues to make carnival costumes to this day. In 2013 he founded High Esteem Carnival Designs with his son Sephbon. High Esteem were part of the Tour de France Grand Depart in 2014. In 2017 Hughbon’s Queen costume ‘Hell Fire-Heaven Reign’ won the 50th Carnival Queen contest.